The Power of "The Cloud"

This was a pretty interesting tidbit about what Microsoft's 300,000 servers will be able to do for gaming on the Xbox One.

Microsoft holds sessions during E3 called Xbox 101. During these sessions, a team of Microsoft engineers led by a man named Jeff Henshaw, discuss the benefits of the Xbox One's better Kinect sensor, the ability to run interactive apps alongside live TV and the computational prowess of Microsoft's cloud servers, those same servers Zampella's Titanfall team are using.

Henshaw starts running a demo that shows 30,000 or so asteroids, all of whose positions and movement are culled from real NASA data. The asteroid show up on a big screen in the Xbox 101 demo room. They're all purple.

"Doing all of this computation would require a little over 10 consoles from the last generation," he says. "This is like taking about 10 1/2 Xbox 360s worth of CPU power and cramming it into one elegantly-designed Xbox One. So we are thrilled at what we have been able to do there. Because this type of raw processor horsepower that's mapping the current time and position in space in real time can all be done by a single Xbox One."

He then flips a switch or presses a button or something and about 300,000 more asteroids appear. These are green and all calculated, he says, by the cloud. "What we've done is we've actually invoked CPU resources from the cloud that can instantly be brought online and scaled up and those cloud CPU processes are now feeding about 500,000 updates per second to help us track every single asteroid in real time."

I later ask him if this demo is for real. We're seeing it in the middle of the E3 show, after all, where Internet connections are notoriously dreadful. Yes, it's real, he says, "We are on an Ethernet line with a private line out connected to our data centers." If the plug was pulled, the cloud asteroids would disappear.

Asteroids are nice, but Henshaw anticipated that his Xbox 101 audience would wonder what the point was, especially for games.

"So things like local foliage, blades of grass, atmospheric effects, gunfire, those things can be offloaded to the cloud," he says, "because they're all going to be in your immediate periphery and you want them to be hyper-realistic but not something you necessarily want to burden the console with.

"We're already working with game developers to incorporate some of these concepts and they're coming up with some pretty amazing ideas. Some games will have levels that are literally infinitely expandable. The more players that come online and the more players that come into the world, they will simply spin up additional cloud computing resources to make levels infinitely larger and avoid load times altogether."

He talks about persistent worlds, of games that keep running and can change when you're not there. He's not saying how well the cloud could do this for every game, nor is he saying much about how bad these games will break if the games' cloud connection drops—some games could be programmed to calculate ahead, he allows—but he's painting a picture of how games could be made on a console where it's a given that this kind of online stuff is available.

This being the case, it seems like all the mentioning of the PS4 having a more powerful GPU than the Xbox One seems to become a moot point and theoretically even seems to provide the Xbox One much more processing power than the PS4.

For the full interview over at Kotaku here you go.